Milk in Tea?

Posted by Martin Birkhead on

When did we British started putting milk in our tea?

The answer is, it is impossible to put a date to it! It seems to have started in the days when green tea was more popular than black tea and maybe the milk helped to soften the strong taste of the black tea, or, maybe it was a result of contact by merchants with the Mongolians or Manchus who put milk in their tea. Or, was a little milk poured in to the new and very fragile porcelain to stop it cracking before the hot water was added, this started around the 18th century in the UK and by the 19th century had porcelain production been perfected and the milk was no longer required first but just stayed? As early as 1660 an advertising broadsheet claimed that tea “being prepared with milk and water, strengthened the inward parts”. So milk has always been an option in the UK.

Strange that the Dutch first gave us tea, and tasted milk in tea around 1655 at a Chinese banquet but it never took off. As with the French, they show no inclination for milk in tea, as far back as 1680 when the Marquise de la Sabliere took milk in her tea.

Adding milk to tea spread throughout the UK and by the end of the 17th century had crossed to our colonies also. Today the majority of black teas are now designed to be drunk with milk and the countries producing tea take this in to consideration in their production when manufacturing teas for export to the UK.

One thing is certain that milk should never be added to green, white and yellow teas, pouchongs, oolongs, most black Chinese teas (except Yunnan), first flush darjeelings, flavoured teas and some of the lighter black teas.

Should the milk go into the cup first? Tradition insists it goes in first as described above (to protect the porcelain). Tea poured into the milk enables it to mix better. Scientifically, pouring the milk in first helps to cool the first drops of tea into the cup, thus reducing the risk of scalding the fat in the milk, which can cause an unpleasant taste. Other people, prefer to add milk after the tea, so they can get the desired proportions and colour required. However, after all this there are no hard and fast rules, it is all a matter of personal preference.

I would strongly suggest trying all teas without milk to get the true taste of the the leaf.


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